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Context Helps Make Commerce Experiences Cool, Not Creepy

individual personalization

The vast majority of retailers are practicing some form of personalization, even at the most fundamental level: welcoming you back to their site by name, recommending products based off of past browsing experience, targeting offers based on search activity. But as data collection systems become more advanced, and personal information becomes more available, can a brand go too far in an effort to capitalize on new customers and just become, well, creepy?

The answer is, yes.

Last week, Buzzfeed published an article called Retail Execs Deem “Personalization” Creepy, Embrace “Relevancy”, a spot-on observation of the cool vs. creepy nature of how personalization has evolved. They discussed the mishaps of brands like Target and Nordstrom, who in recent years have gone so far that they’ve over-personalized experiences, interjecting their brands into consumers’ lives without consent–and ultimately paying the price for it through public shaming by disgruntled shoppers. But as an essential customer loyalty tool, and method for developing brand advocates, personalization is key. Being relevant is imperative. The goal then becomes doing it so expertly that you’re only targeting who you want, when you want, on terms that they agree to, at a rate that they’re comfortable with. But that’s not easy.

Buzzfeed suggests that the market is trending towards replacing this outdated term of “personalization” with “relevancy” -- a more refined and tactical word that sounds sophisticated instead of invasive. The goal of creating a tailored e-commerce experience is the same across the board though, no matter what we call it. At the end of the day, your brand wants your customers to feel like they’re intimately connected to you, on an individual basis, at every touchpoint. You need to get to know your customer over time by developing a unified customer profile; this profile is based on the data you’ve collected about them, across every channel where they can interact with your brand.

We call this contextualization, which means looking at the context of a purchase -- when and why a customer make their purchase, and not just what they are choosing to buy. If your brand takes just the crucial, non-creepy data you’ve gathered on each customer, and uses that to deliver content and offers within the proper context, then you’ve won the game.

Personalization or relevancy or contextualization or whatever -- you need to know your customers intimately without being intimate, and across all channels without interrupting their daily lives. Then, you need to do all of this without freaking people out and making them scared of or angry at your brand. It’s safer to tread lightly, because you can always tweak and hone an approach with further personalization. Once you’ve gone too far, though, you can’t take it back.

Bottom line: Don’t be a creep.

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